Throughout my fortunate education, I've endeavored to cultivate as accurate an image - in my mind's eye - as possible, to help portray the turbulent realities of our cellular interactions. The heuristics popularly employed to communicate such concepts did the job intended, but failed dramatically at imparting even an approximation of what really must be going on. The 'lock-and-key' analogy for receptor-ligand interactions, or even the Hodgkin-Huxley model of the neuron - all of which are tremendous milestones in human understanding - are purely heuristics, and aren't even intended to provide anything more than a heuristic might provide. With a somewhat unorthodox tool - psychedelic spatial suggestively, coupled with graphic depictions - the chimp has made personal strides in enhancing these heuristics, and he'd like to take this opportunity and share this image with whomever might be interested.
This gorgeous video may help illustrate the fragile depictions I'm considering: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mszlckmc4Hw
A while ago, I proudly wrote a little entry entitled Serendipitous Lessons from Psychedelic Side-Effects, a sort of manifesto that I still readily embrace. One element, however - arguably the central thrust of the entry - was an appreciation for the fragile and seemingly choreographed dynamics between neurochemical participants. A "beautiful biochemical ballet". This image, however elegant & romantic, is not the image that's survived years of subsequent exposure to cellular studies. Rather, our nervous system is more similar to a game of roulette or pinball; chance, it seems, plays too significant a role in our neurons' behavior to be neglected in favor of a more aesthetically pleasing image of a graceful dance. Accordingly, our honorable attempts at defining which sedative is 'the best', or identifying the 'more euphoric' psychedelics/stimulants - are inevitably folly.
The human nervous system is a bricolage of interacting systems - a mishmash of processes that evolved out of chance. The interactions between them are elegant and complex, and have permitted humans to be the single most adaptive organism in the history of the known universe. It's important to maintain, however, that these systems weren't designed to function as they do - they were simply the most successful alternative at the time, the most adaptive. Accordingly, nervous system function is rarely optimal. For example, there's a distinct difference between editing a book while reading to one's-self compared to reading aloud; different brain regions are recruited for the different processes - and reading aloud literally connects disparate brain regions that wouldn't have otherwise been capable of interacting (auditory language processes to subcortical language processes). In all reality, the systems are a mess. We strive daily to compensate for the fact that our primate nervous systems evolved to hunt and gather cooperatively, not necessarily to accommodate the panoply of stressors comprising modern life. We've done a damn good job, too.
Everything changes. Fast. Too fast to follow, really. And though things seem to remain the same, and our consciousness relatively stable - this is merely a testament to the resiliency of our redundant neurophysiology, and NOT to its precision. People regularly make mistakes; mistakes in judgments, beliefs, and perceptions are an intimate component of the human experience - in fact, homo sapiens would never have even appeared without rare mistakes in genetic replication. Chance, mistakes, uncertainty - these are the unquantifiable features of our daily experiences that seem crucial in coloring the qualitative aspects of consciousness. In short, it's quintessentially human to err.
There is a continuous criticism of the neurosciences - namely, of the ability to grapple with the truly interesting questions of human consciousness. Will we ever be able to generate a neurophysiological model for something as intangible, unquantifiable, and subjective as consciousness? This conversation obligatorily recruits participants from disparate disciplines; cognitive & cellular neuroscientists, philosophers, psychologists, computer engineers & programmers, linguists, cybernetic researchers, genetic researchers, and heaps of others have contributed significantly to an extremely convoluted conversation of the human mind. While it may be clear where my allegiances lie, I've found this dialogue to be largely fruitless - and tends to dance around potentially productive issues with analogies and sub-optimally intuitive thought experiments. Don't get me wrong; talking about consciousness is almost always fun, regardless of the inevitability of no absolute conclusions. However, given the significance of unpredictable chance - expressed even at sub-molecular levels - why even try to localize consciousness to certain circuits? What would be the benefit, if it were even possible? In my opinion (as well in the opinion of my most respected peers), consciousness can't be anything but an emergent property of our patchwork nervous system - presenting a spectrum of complexity rather than a threshold designating conscious or not.